Hi, My Name is Luca

Center of Gravity

What is it, and why is it important?

The center of gravity of an object is where the weight of that object is evenly dispersed, and all sides are balanced due to gravity, friction and the other kinetic forces at play. A human’s center of gravity tends to sit around their naval (a female’s center of gravity tends to sit a bit lower and a male’s center of gravity tends to sit a bit higher). You move, walk and run by shifting your center of gravity past the tipping point, gravity does its work on your body, and then you proceed to catch yourself from falling by taking a step and stabilizing to find your new center. In climbing, the law of gravity is strictly enforced, and you tend to notice it a lot more then when you’re on the ground.

You notice a lot more for two reasons: first, your are using your arms (a relatively weaker muscle) rather than or in conjunction with our legs; second, your center of gravity when on the wall is seldom directly above your feet as it would be when you’re standing (the exception to this would be slab and climbs in which you stem, which is why you can, at times, take your hands off and simply stand). Typically your center of gravity is often forced to be further from the wall (often by the wall) then you would like it to be.

There are a couple things you can do to help you keep your center of gravity in check: first, you can lower your center of gravity; and second, you engage your core to keep your hips (and by doing so your center of gravity) closer to the wall.

Center of Gravity

In everyday life you’re used to moving with relatively straight legs and bent arms, this keeps your center of gravity high and allows you to move large distances quickly and with little effort because of how easily you can manipulate our center of gravity. In climbing this higher mobility also translates to reduced stability and balance. So, to fix this you can bend your legs and straighten our arms do the opposite, bringing your gravity lower to increase stability and balance while reducing your lateral mobility (which you don’t use as much while climbing). This is a climber’s default position, straight arms and bent legs, this brings your gravity lower which helps you build a solid base above your feet.

Keep Your Hips Close to the Wall

Another thing to consider about your center of gravity is how close that center is in relation to the wall. Your center being close to the wall usually signifies more weight being taken up by your legs, and a center which is further signifies that more weight is being taken up by your arms. Keeping your weight close to the wall is particularly hard when you’re on a part of the wall that is overhung. Ideally, you have a super strong core which you can use to keep that center in, but to make it easier and when your core is lacking, you can use your body’s anatomy to your advantage. You can do this by twisting your hips, bringing your knees and toes in towards your body and when moving reaching your arm across the body to create body tension and make the reach easier then if you were simply pulling with your biceps for it.  (This idea explores two concepts in climbing: straight armed climbing and drop knees. Again, I’ll eventually have another article focusing specifically on keeping our arms straight)

Activities & Drills:

Straight Arm Climbing
  • This exercise is an exaggeration of how you should be normally climbing and practicing our last section: “Keeping Our Hips Close to the Wall”.
  • Climbing up an easy climb or rainbowing with only one leg on the wall
    • I’d advise using PVC pipes/tubes if your gym has them to practice this and force the straight arms *ONLY ON ROPES, DO NOT DO THIS BOULDERING*, that stops us from cheating when you think it’s not that big of a deal (it might be a big deal).
      • If there aren’t any PVC pipes/tubes on hand and you’re the prepared kind of person you can always make shift a split pretty easily with some cardboard and duck-tape to have the same effect.
Climbing with a Plumb Bob
  • If you don’t know what a plumb bob is you can always look it up or click here, but it’s essentially a weight that’s dangled from a string.
    • I personally don’t use a weight but rather a rope which a large knot tied at the end (I tie a variation of a hangman’s noose)
  • Attach the plumb bob to the chalk bag or haul loop (center) of the climbers harness you can then proceed to climb up the wall but while doing so trying to ensure the plumb bob moves as little as possible.
    • You’ll notice that it swings and knocks around when you make a dynamic move, but you’ll also have a better idea of where your weight is going or where it always wants to go during the climb.
Adam Young’s Web Log – Basic Body Positions for Rock Climbing – http://adam.younglogic.com/2008/03/basic-body-position-for-rock-climbing/
Wikipedia – Plumb Bob – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plumb_bob